Sunday, April 29, 2007

Two Sonnets I Associate with Carleton College

The seniors in their black robes, with their troubled
Destinies in their smiles, in a thousand chapels
Now manfully march from childhood into banks,
Shops and offices, with their ranks
Unbroken still, and their eyes front still,
As if in all their classrooms they had learned
Only the virtue of marching, the vice of standing still.

Or so it seems -- or so it seems to those
Who watch them with the knowledge of many such marches
And see in them only the mass, forgetting their own
Halting separateness years ago,
When they found themselves, in those robes, suddenly grown,
And suddenly, flanked by classmates, marching alone.

-- Reed Whittemore

(Longtime chairman of the English department; this poem was published in the June 1963 Voice, where I discovered it while working for the Archives one summer)

I. Nomen, Numen

"Tuncks is a good name. Gerard Manley Tuncks."
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins, from his Journals

I am haplessly hopelessly Hopkins.
What is a Hopkins? A series of little
Hops. Leaplets. Nothing sustained. Nothing whole.
Hobbled-kind. Hare-minded. What begins
Well ends one length away. Half-happens.
A plan, hope-full, for poem, or more, hurries to a fall.
A man breathes in, puffed, breathes out, flat. That's all.
My name (help!) spells me out: what whole? My sins.

Ah, but Tuncks. Tuncks. I would give such thanks
To be so named. Sound sound manly single.
Blow well-aimed at a mark; thought an arrow thinks.
Thunk. Thud. Straight for God. Good. Nothing will
Do but dead center, the heart of the Triangle
's Word, Holy Name no silence (sh!) outflanks.

-- Philip Dacey

(who read at Carleton my senior year; this poem was published in the English department newsletter, and I saved it. The same newsletter also contains the following Quote of the Week, designed to test English majors' recall of the books they studied:

"It was then that began our extensive travels all over the States. To any other type of tourist accommodation I soon grew to prefer the Functional Motel -- clean, neat, safe nooks, ideal places for sleep, argument, reconciliation, insatiable illicit love."

Ten points to the first reader who is not Katy or Nadia -- or Eric or Ted or Avery or Andy -- or okay, not associated with Carleton, period -- who can identify the author and novel from which the quote was taken. )


  1. That quote is certainly Nabokov's Lolita!

  2. And -- ten points to Jane Dark!

  3. Thanks!

    And I meant to say earlier that the second poem is especially splendid.

  4. Hopkins, especially The Windhover makes me go all woogie in the knees.

    The language is so perfect. I think of him when ever I hear the word vermillion.


  5. What a surprise to find my Hopkins poem on Cheryl Klein's blog. Thanks for the attention and the kind words.